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When It Comes to Conservation, the Tables Slowly Turn in the Global North-South Divide

Announced at a recent United Nations summit on biodiversity, India’s pledge of $50 million to assist developing countries with conservation efforts marks a significant shift in the way environmental protection is funded worldwide.
October 28, 2012, 11am PDT | Erica Gutiérrez
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It's not the amount itself that has impressed so many, but rather the symbolism behind it; this type of conservation funding has traditionally been within the purview of richer, developed counterparts, reports Vivekananda Nemana. "That's a great initiative," said Lasse Gustavsson, conservation director of the World Wide Fund for Nature. "It won't go far, but you're now seeing this tendency for strong leadership on conservation from the emerging economies."

Due partly to the global economic slowdown's effect on spending in developed countries, and the concomitant rise in economic and political power of developing countries like India, China, and Brazil, "there has been a rise in so-called South-South cooperation, in which developing countries provide each other economic and technical assistance," notes Nemana. In addition to financing from South Korea, Brazil and China, "[d]ozens of other regional efforts have sprouted across Latin America, Africa and Asia," says Nemana, and this trend is expected to continue.

Furthermore, there has also been a push to find more synergy between poverty reduction programs and conservation efforts. "An August 2012 study [PDF] by the Indian government found that it already spent nearly $1 billion per year on development programs that had environmental benefits but that there was much more scope to make poverty-reduction programs greener." The study's author, Damodaran Appukuttawarns, warns, "What is happening right now is that funds are being diverted from poverty alleviation to look at forests. So you have to have a complete paradigm change in the way of looking at conservation, where protected biodiversity is integrated into development."

"In all likelihood, any fundamental shift in who leads the world's conservation efforts will take time," says Nemana. "Still, economic and environmental experts at the convention saw a new trend emerging from the changing global landscape."

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Published on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 in The New York Times
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